The Citadel Theatre's new artistic director Daryl Cloran announced his first season on Monday – and revealed what will be his three-word guiding vision for Alberta's biggest theatre company: Inclusive, innovative and international.
You can see how one or two of these buzzwords might apply to certain shows the 42-year-old director has planned for Edmonton in 2017-18 – such as Corey Payette's hotly tipped residential-school musical, Children of God, or a new aerial adaptation of Robin Hood penned by Edmonton writer Mieko Ouchi. But all three will combine in the biggest surprise of his inaugural programming – the Canadian premiere of the folk-and-jazz opera Hadestown, part of the show's planned trajectory to Broadway.
Based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Vermont-based singer-writer Anaïs Mitchell's musical – which includes a timely gospel anthem called Why We Build the Wall – will play at the Citadel in November in collaboration with American producers Dale Franzen and Mara Isaacs of Octopus Theatricals.
Cloran was smitten by Mitchell's show last summer off-Broadway in a well-reviewed run at the 200-seat New York Theatre Workshop. "It felt very young and sexy and hip," he says, explaining why he immediately contacted the producers to see if they might want to have it take its next step in Edmonton.
For the Citadel run, a new Canadian cast will get to develop the show for a larger space under the guidance of Rachel Chavkin, the American director known for her immersive stagings who currently has a huge hit on Broadway with Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.
The increased cost of a longer rehearsal period will be offset by a financial contribution by Octopus Theatricals – and the Citadel will get a small stake in the show as it moves forward.
It's not unusual for American not-for-profit regional theatres to partner with commercial producers developing a musical for Broadway – but Canadian companies rarely become involved in such arrangements.
There's no guarantee the Edmonton actors will move forward with it, but, says Cloran: "Ultimately, my hope is that they fall in love with the Canadians that they're working with."
While Hadestown has that Broadway buzz surrounding it, Children of God, Payette's tale of two Oji-Cree siblings taken away from their family, should be equally anticipated by Edmonton audiences.
Cloran first presented it in workshop form at Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops, B.C., which he ran for six years before taking his current post. "It's the kind of show where nobody got out of their seats at the end," he says. "It was very important for me to say that indigenous work belongs on our mainstage and to have that conversation here."
The Citadel Theatre's new leader intends to further signal his commitment to the local First Nations community by hiring an indigenous associate artist; the first person to hold the part-time post will be announced soon.
On to the rest of the 2017-18 season: Cloran will kick things off in September in the 681-seat Shoctor Theatre by directing Shakespeare in Love, an adaptation of the film of the same name recently seen at the Stratford Festival, in a co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.
In February, Thousand Islands Playhouse artistic director Ashlie Corcoran will visit to direct another crowd-pleaser – the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! – on the thrust stage of the 682-seat Maclab Theatre.
The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood by Ouchi is set to hit the stage in April – and Cloran, who has two sons with his wife, actress Holly Lewis, hopes it will bring families to the Citadel.
In between, The Humans, Stephen Karam's 2016 Tony-winning play about the decline of the American white middle class, is on the playbill in a co-production with Toronto's Canadian Stage.
Hiring former Shaw Festival artistic director Jackie Maxwell to direct Karam's (super)naturalistic hit is an inspired choice – but it's also a long-awaited returned favour. Back in 2003, Maxwell hired Cloran to direct a show in her own Shaw first season in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., when he was just, he says, a "young upstart."
Three "add-on shows" outside the main subscription series complete Cloran's initial programming. In a co-production with Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg, he will revive Ubuntu (The Cape Town Project) – a transatlantic collaboration that helped make his name as a director back when he ran the Toronto company Theatrefront a decade ago.
Blind Date creator Rebecca Northan will debut a new "spontaneous theatre" production called Undercover – in which an audience member will be pulled up on stage to be the rookie detective to a grizzled cop in a made-up-on-the-spot mystery. And Empire of the Son, Vancouver broadcaster Tetsuro Shigematsu's popular memoir of his relationship with his Japanese-born father, will pay a visit as well.
The Citadel Theatre has been "right-sizing" its operations in recent years – and the last two complete seasons under long-time artistic director Bob Baker ran operating deficits of $388,000 and $397,000. But Cloran has inherited a theatre in sound financial health over all, with an accumulated surplus of $1,642,000.
"We're in a great season right now," he says. "The company's in really solid shape with a lot of people that care about it quite a bit."